Presenting the communication, entitled 'Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment', Commissioner Orban said "the implementation of the strategy does not require any additional budgetary resources". For the moment, "the 2007-2013 budget under the Lifelong Learning programme contains all the required funds," he explained.
The Commission intends to review the success of the new strategy in 2012, when it "will decide whether any additional funds will be required in the next period," the commissioner added.
Results "should not be expected overnight" but "I am convinced that we will be successful," Orban said. Rather than making new funding available, the Commission is backing an "inclusive approach" which seeks to "mainstream" languages across the full spectrum of EU policy, as revealed by EurActiv earlier this week (EurActiv 15/09/08).
Indeed, the communication says the EU should "make the most of existing European programmes and initiatives" in the fields of education, media, research, social inclusion and competitiveness. To this end, Commissioner Orban said he would set up "a permanent platform" for exchange of best practice on language policy between governments, business, trade unions and academics.
The main objective of the communication is to "raise awareness of the value and opportunities of the EU’s linguistic diversity and encourage the removal of barriers to intercultural dialogue".
Making the case for citizens to learn at least two foreign languages, including a 'personal adoptive' tongue to complement one acquired for professional reasons, the text warns that the plethora of languages spoken throughout the bloc "can widen the communication gap between people of different cultures and increase social divisions, giving the multilingual access to better living and working opportunities while excluding the monolingual".
But Emeritus Research Professor for Social Sciences Abram de Swaan of the University of Amsterdam disagrees. "The more languages we encourage, the more English will prevail," De Swaan believes. He goes as far as saying that "the EU is the biggest propagator of English in Europe," citing the fact that many sections of the EU institutions' websites can only be viewed in English and the reality of communication among participants in the Erasmus student mobility scheme as proof of this.
Meanwhile, the communication stresses the following key points:
- Language skills improve employability and boost business competitiveness.
- Languages promote mutual understanding in a multicultural society.
- European citizens should speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue.
- The media and new technologies can bridge the gap between speakers of different languages.
But the text makes clear that the promotion of these goals must be achieved "within existing resources". What's more, language policy is largely a national competence, a situation which this communication will not change.
"Member states are the key decision-makers on language policy," while "many other organisations take decisions on the ground on language issues: educational providers, regional and local authorities, social partners, media and services," it states. "With this communication, we are prompting the EU member states, local authorities and social partners to join forces and take action," Orban explained.
Meanwhile, the EU institutions' translation and interpreting services, which absorb €1.1bn or 1% of the EU budget every year, were not addressed by the communication. "The strategy did not aim to solve the institutional side of multilingualism," said the commissioner.